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Mississippi Supreme Court hears arguments in death row inmate's appeal in rape case

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JACKS0N, Mississippi — The attorney for death row inmate Charles Ray Crawford argued Monday before the Mississippi Supreme Court that the man's 1994 rape conviction should be tossed because he received poor legal representation at his trial.

Defense attorney Glenn Swartzfager told the justices there were numerous errors in Crawford's rape trial including poor performance by the defense, prosecutorial misconduct and questionable rulings and jury instructions from the trial judge. He said Crawford's trial lawyer failed to challenge jury instructions and failed to object to inadmissible testimony and prejudicial prosecutorial comments.

Crawford, now 49, is on death row for the 1992 slaying of Kristy Ray in the Chalybeate (kuh-LEE-be-ut) community in Tippah County. Crawford argues he received ineffective defense counsel to fight the rape charge, which was used by prosecutors to seek the death penalty.

Prosecutors argued Crawford got a fair trial and that if there was any error, it was Crawford's for waiting 20 years to file an appeal.

Assistant Attorney General Scott Stuart told the justices there was sufficient evidence to support the verdict. He said the court record shows there was no error at the trial and at no point before or during trial that Crawford was not represented by counsel.

Crawford was arrested in 1992 and charged with rape and aggravated assault. While free on bond, he was arrested and charged with murder in the death of a young woman. He was convicted of rape in 1993 and sentenced to 66 years in prison. He was then found guilty of murder in 1994 and sentenced to death. Prosecutors had argued the death penalty was justified because Crawford's past as a rapist constituted an aggravated factor and called for the harshest of punishments.

According to his lawyers, Crawford could get off death row — where he now resides on the unrelated capital murder conviction — if his appeal in the rape case is successful.

The Supreme Court has said it will not set an execution date for the murder until the rape appeal is resolved.

If the Supreme Court upholds Crawford's conviction in the rape case, Attorney General Jim Hood could petition the court to set an execution date. Crawford's lawyers argued the death sentence would be negated if the conviction is reversed.

In 1993, Crawford was out on bond awaiting trial on charges of aggravated assault and rape. Four days before his trial, the 20-year-old Ray, a student at Northeast Mississippi Community College, was abducted from her parents' home.

After his family and attorney notified police that they feared Crawford was committing another crime, he was arrested. Crawford told authorities he did not remember the incident but later led them to Ray's body, buried in leaves in a wooded area.

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